Bella Mafia — Parts I & II

Talents such as Vanessa Redgrave, Tony Lo Bianco and exec producer Frank Konigsberg, for instance, are attached to "Prime Suspect" writer Linda La Plante's lasagna opus about a Sicilian don's above-the-board family. After Part I's routine setting up of the premise, miniseries offers a promise of life in Part II; promises, promises, but it's a pseudo-Puzo approach with its gutsy action, hand-wringing and bloody deaths.

With:
Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Dennis Farina, Nastassja Kinski, Jennifer Tilly, Illeana Douglas, James Marsden, Gina Philips, Richard Portnow, Franco Nero, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Hayden, Richard Joseph Paul, W. Earl Brown, Tony Maggio, Tomas Arana, Christopher Shaw, Michael Raynor, Dimitri Arlys, Paul Eckstein, Todd Tesen, Michael Kagen, Michael Gregory, David O'Donnell, Dominick Morra, Sam Adamo, Rita Zohar, Michael Clark Elias, Nick Vallelonga, Alec Plummer, Scott Layne.

Talents such as Vanessa Redgrave, Tony Lo Bianco, Nastassja Kinski and exec producer Frank Konigsberg, for instance, are attached to “Prime Suspect” writer Linda La Plante’s lasagna opus about a Sicilian don’s above-the-board family. After Part I’s routine setting up of the premise, miniseries offers a promise of life in Part II; promises, promises, but it’s a pseudo-Puzo approach with its gutsy action, hand-wringing and bloody deaths.

Italian magnate Don Luciano (Dennis Farina) and handsome wife Graziella live in comfortable Sicilian style at Palermo’s handsome Villa Rosa with their sons and new wives. Local nobody Sophia (Nastassja Kinski) having an under-the-sheets affair with their son Michael (Michael Hayden), unwisely doesn’t get the ring before becoming pregnant.

Michael’s knocked off by U.S.-based rival mob leader Carolla (Tony Lo Bianco) because, among other things, Luciano won’t go into drug trafficking. Sophia secretly has a baby boy, Luka (James Marsden in later years), to whom she gives a plot-wise significant locket before the baby conveniently disappears from a convent. Sophia marries another brother and bears twins.

The plot’s a reach. Carolla, adopting angry now-teenager Luka, teaches him vengeance against the Lucianos, though neither knows he’s really one of them. Luka, a fast learner, wipes out all the known male Lucianos, including the bambinos.

Now, after two hours, the stage should be set, and Graziella, Sophia, the two widows and a daughter, learning of their terrible losses, stand together in stunned grief, one of the more moving segs of the miniseries. Ominously, facing directly into the camera, Grazielle warns, “Now it’s my turn!”

But La Plante’s cleverness wears thin. Luka charms his way — don’t ask how — into the women’s confidence. They buy his tale about being the son of a wealthy, helpful American as if they’d welcome any stranger into their midst after they’ve suffered such a major family slaughter.

Director David Greene, leaping over subtleties, gets in some grisly death scenes and gruesome leavings, but also delivers moments of fondness and touching loyalty among the women. The earlier, courting scenes of the sons are set up like pins in a bowling alley, but individual interludes among the couples are surprisingly fresh. La Plante and director Greene are whizzes at setting up the macabre, including the deaths of the juves. And there’s certainly vitality among the living characters.

Ever-reliable designer Charles Bennett’s imaginative Southern California sites are good stand-ins for Palermo, but the drama’s action too often rings with echoes of similar Mafia excursions. The switch? The nervous showdown in which the five women hand out revenge to their guilty dinner guest. For the whole program, the body count’s a ghastly feast; viewers will eat it up.

Redgrave plays the charming-then-grieving but resolute Palermo mother with all the care she’d shed on Medea. It’s a lovely, restrained perf.

But it’s Sophia’s story, and the attractive Kinski presents a firm, well-placed job ranging from Italian teen-ager to powerful mobster who can deal out murder with the worst of them.

Marsden’s Luka is an appreciative study of dramatic psychopathy, and the actor tears into the flashy part with ferocity mixed with professional allure. Luka should make Marsden this week’s misunderstood heartthrob among the impressionable.

The violence will disturb many, but the dialog’s squeaky clean. The storyline, if improbable, is basically simple: When their men are wiped out, the women fortuitously discover who done it and get even — and choose a ruthless leader among themselves.

Jennifer Tilly as the irritating Moyra, a tart who marries into the family, delivers the goods. Dennis Farina plays the Don with conviction, and Franco Nero limns Domino, the Don’s sometimes-trusted friend, sympathetically. Lo Bianco’s firm as the embittered Carolla.

Carmen Argenziano, the Mafia bigwig, is impressive. Peter Bogdanovich shows up as Giancamo, who handles the Don’s American interests; he limns the role deftly. Added attraction: Christopher Shaw as Giorgio, Carolla’s ailing son who conveniently lives in the monastery where Luka grows up.

Gordon C. Lonsdale handled the sharp lensing, Michael Brown edited the work.

Other tech credits are altogether pro.

Bella Mafia --- Parts I & II

Sun.(16), Tues.(18), 9-11 p.m., CBS

Production: Filmed on locations around L.A. by The Konigsberg Co. Exec producer, Frank Konigsberg; producer, Jack Clements; director, David Greene; writer, Lynda La Plante; based on novel by La Plante.

Crew: Camera, Gordon C. Lonsdale; editor, Michael Brown; sound, Michael C. Moore; music, Joseph Vitarelli; production designer, Charles Bennett; casting, Gary M. Zuckerbrod.

Cast: Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Dennis Farina, Nastassja Kinski, Jennifer Tilly, Illeana Douglas, James Marsden, Gina Philips, Richard Portnow, Franco Nero, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Hayden, Richard Joseph Paul, W. Earl Brown, Tony Maggio, Tomas Arana, Christopher Shaw, Michael Raynor, Dimitri Arlys, Paul Eckstein, Todd Tesen, Michael Kagen, Michael Gregory, David O'Donnell, Dominick Morra, Sam Adamo, Rita Zohar, Michael Clark Elias, Nick Vallelonga, Alec Plummer, Scott Layne.

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